Editor at Large: Where the Streets have a Name

Posted by on March 19th

Alan Hill is originally from Birmingham; He is retired and came to live in Leith five years ago, after spending thirty-five years in other parts of Edinburgh. He says he “particularly values Leith, traditionally a place of crafts and trades where more things have been made than Edinburgh’s much vaunted ‘Big Three’ – Beer, Books and Banking.”

He tells me these poems are taken from “a wider collection designed as an informal and offbeat guidebook to Edinburgh as a whole, concentrating on places and features well off the beaten tourist track.” (His pieces on Leith struck a particular personal chord.) A few of these poems have been given an airing, but the full collection has yet to attract a publisher.

Foot of Leith Walk

Victoria Regina stands in state

And in stone upon an Imperial plinth.

On her crown sometimes a pigeon perches, 

Sometimes a gull and after a particularly

Raucous evening a traffic cone, with a tipsy tilt.

Imperturbably she maintains her stance.

What else for such an enduring symbol

Of Imperial power and prosperity?

But down at her feet, beneath orb and sceptre,

On a forum newly re-laid by the Council,

Her realm is reduced to a restless assortment,

The root-starved, the random, the dispossessed,

Who while away time in drinking and quarrelling,

Never once asking why Empire failed to enrich them.

Only Connect (Giles Street) 

Day-to-day Giles Street’s proudest boast

Must be The Vaults, Leith’s oldest warehouse,

Constructed in sixteen-eighty-two

Over pre-existing wine cellars

That were maturing their precious treasures

Long before the Armada set sail.

The whole now providing a fitting home

For the Scotch Malt Whisky Society.

It’s a nondescript street, formed in a crescent,

Like the wide sweep of a Highland bull’s horns

Which prod into Henderson Street, linking it with

All the other highways and byways of Britain

So even little Giles Street leads to Rome,

And on to Persepolis, to Samarkand,

To Trebizond and beyond, and all their

Broken splendours under a wasting sun.

Mystery In Maritime Lane

There’s a wall in Leith, 

In a narrow street,

With grimy stucco 

Shaded from the sun,

Where a spray-can scribe 

Has written with care

In a very fair, even, cursive hand,

This terse single message, 

Or crossword clue: 

The things I love are not at home.

It’s a dreary place

For such a heartfelt cry

Perhaps that’s why.

North Leith Churchyard

North Leith Churchyard

Best in mid-May with the grass newly mown,

And green lime-tree flowers sweetly fragrant.

Perfumed, manicured, spring-cleaned for the year;

A quiet place. The dissolving gravestones

Only hint at names, dates, ages, places,

Tease with fragments of symbols of lost trades,

Words in stone erased by rain’s soft chisel.

Here is no urgent carpe diem nor

Memento mori warning, but rather 

A sense of deep peace rising from a chain

Of successive lives, countless, hand in hand.

Stepping briefly through living and dying.

A dance that will continue long after

We return to the elements of earth.

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